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Marin IJ Articles

Community gardens grow more than just edibles

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • As you might expect from a Master Gardener, I cannot imagine not having a place to plant the food and flowers that I want. I am fortunate to have a place to garden right outside my door. Not everyone is so lucky, however. For people who live in densely populated situations, community gardens have become a popular option.

    A community garden is any piece of land that is gardened by a group of people. Most community gardens are found in urban areas where densely saturated housing leaves little bare ground for gardening. But a community garden can be a school garden, a garden at a developmental residential facility, or a median strip maintained by a neighborhood or a senior living community.

    Community gardens can be found throughout the world. Some are geared toward beautification, primarily in the form of flowers. Some provide people with small plots where they can grow veggies for their personal use. Others give low-income families and community groups a chance to work together to provide a shared bounty of flowers, edibles and green space to gather. Still others are a combination of all of these so that people can garden individually or communally.

    The emphasis on all the models is on "community." Community gardens bring people together from various backgrounds, ages, races, cultures and social classes. They often grow much more than flowers and food.

    The benefits of community gardening are multi-pronged:

    • Community gardening provides organic food choices for people who might not otherwise be able to afford them. People who garden tend to eat more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The gardeners have control over what they plant and how it is fertilized. Community gardeners plant crops that are often not available in grocery stores. This helps immigrants feel more connected to their cultural foods.
    • Gardeners find a place to learn and share skills. Community gardens provide a place to compost items that would normally end up in the landfills. People who garden together get good fresh air, vigorous physical activity and can make new friends.
    • A blighted area can see reduced crime and neglect when people come together to create a garden space where they can safely gather, feed their families, become less alienated from their neighbors and play. Stress is reduced, property values go up and the community learns the value of living things and sustainability.
    • Community gardens serve as outdoor classrooms where kids can learn about communication, responsibility, cooperation, nutrition and patience as well as lots of science and math.

    Marin County has an estimated 86 community gardens.

    • There are eight community gardens where groups of people are coming together to grow fruits, vegetable and ornamentals. The gardens are on public or private land, and the individual plots are rented by the gardeners at a nominal annual fee.
    • There are an estimated seven residential gardens in Marin that are shared among residents in apartment communities, assisted living and affordable housing units. These residential gardens are mainly cared for by residents living on the grounds.
    • There are three institutional gardens in Marin that are attached to either public or private organizations offering beneficial services for their residents.
    • Demonstration gardens are used in educational and recreational settings. Marin demonstration gardens can be found at Blackie's Pasture in Tiburon, Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael, Indian Valley College Organic Farm and Garden in Novato, and Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross.
    • Approximately 50 of the 57 public schools in Marin have gardens. There are many more private school gardens.